SIT Graduate Institute alumna Kerry Secrest was recently appointed honorary consul of the Republic of Lithuania for Vermont. On June 6 Lithuanian Ambassador Zygimanta Pavilionis and Vaidotas Asmonas, attaché for Agriculture and Commerce, visited Brattleboro, Vermont, for the official opening of the honorary consulate.
“I am honored to be appointed to this position,” said Secrest, who holds a master’s degree in intercultural management from SIT. “Lithuania has always been a big part of my life, and I am looking forward to helping serve as a bridge between these two parts of the world that I love.”
As honorary consul, Secrest will act as an extension of the diplomatic corps and work to build economic and cultural connections between Lithuania and Vermont. She is already working on plans to hold an art show featuring works by Lithuanian artist Joana Plikionyte-Bruziene at the Brattleboro Museum Art Center and hopes to organize a screening of the documentary The Other Dream Team about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team.
Through her company, Watershed Coaching, Secrest works as a leadership coach for individuals and organizations, focusing on executive coaching, leadership training, team coaching and women’s leadership. She said this career is a direct result of her SIT experience, as she focused on what was then called human resource development and training during her degree program.
In addition, Secrest recently lectured on leadership development at the Baltic Management Institute, a premier executive education institution in Eastern Europe. “I am fortunate to know a lot of people in Lithuania in a number of sectors, and hope to be able to leverage those relationship to facilitate economic and cultural opportunities for both Lithuania and Vermont.”
“Ms. Secrest is a dynamic individual with a lot of energy and enthusiasm for Lithuania and Vermont,” said Ambassador Pavilionis. “We are thrilled she has accepted this appointment. We look forward to deepening bilateral cooperation of the United States and Lithuania in the areas of economic, cultural, educational and scientific affairs.”
Secrest is a fourth-generation Lithuanian-American who grew up with some of the cultural traditions from the country. Every summer she traveled from her home in Connecticut to be a camper and later a counselor at Camp Neringa in Marlboro, Vermont, a camp founded in the 1960s to preserve the Lithuanian heritage and culture through the period of Soviet occupation that started after World War II.
Her first trip to Lithuania was during college, when she traveled there briefly on an international student exchange. After graduating from Villanova University in 1991, she lived for two years in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, learning the language and teaching English at Vilnius University and the Lithuanian Teachers Institute. “I was also a regular on the biggest radio show in the country, where I would do a short daily piece reading the news in English,” she said.
“It was an exciting time to be in the country,” said Secrest. “When I arrived, it was occupied by the Soviets, and I remember the tanks going down the streets. People united around the independence movement, and I was there when Lithuania got independence and the crowds were toppling the Lenin statues. When I left in 1993, the Soviets had pulled out, and the country was independent for the first time since 1940.”
Upon her return to the United States, Secrest joined the new Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, D.C. as the Advisor for Educational and Cultural Affairs. When she left four years later to obtain a graduate degree at SIT, the President of Lithuania granted her citizenship in appreciation of her contributions to the country. After working several years in Washington, DC, for the American Red Cross, she moved to Brattleboro in 2003 with her family.
Secrest believes her experience at SIT will help her act as a bridge between countries and cultures.
“I think that my experience at SIT was fundamental to shaping my perspective as to how I look at the world—to learn to appreciate different cultures, that there is no one ‘right’ way to do things, that the best work comes from deep communication and collaboration, and that it can all start with one person and one conversation,” she said. “We can all make a difference.”